This Summer I was asked a question that kind of hurt me. While at work, a white lady started a conversation with me. She asked me regular summer stuff: how it was going, how many weeks of vacation I got left, and if I had been doing any sort of fun things with my friends.
She was nice, or at least I thought she was. The lady asked me what high school I attended, so I told her “Actually, I am a senior at Cal Poly Pomona.” Her face quickly changed; she went from having a soft smile to a straddled and confused look on her eyes. She said “Really? Well what are you majoring in?” And so, I told her: “I am a journalism major, and I hope to work for a national newspaper someday.”
I had never seen someone so surprised. The lady, with an open mouth, was completely speechless. I couldn’t, however, understand her confusion. Why was she so surprised? Was it because I look young and she can’t believe I’m about to graduate college? But something else was going through her mind.
Once she came back from her confusion, the lady said: “So journalism, right? Oh… So you can write?”
“Yes, of course I can write,” I told her. “Actually, I write for the school newspaper, and an article of mine has been published by our local newspaper: The Desert Sun. I also have worked with Univision as a broadcast reporter for a project, too.”
Once I said that, she completely lost it. I can’t read minds, but if I could read hers that day she must have been thinking something along the lines of “this brown girl is educated, wow.”
A brown educated woman, that’s good, right? But for some odd reason, it did not make me feel good at that moment. I remember thinking: Well, this is awkward. There I was, standing in front of a white middle-class woman, being asked about my education.
“I know a few Mexican girls, they clean houses for me,” she said.
That is when I understood why she was so perplexed. Her cleaning ladies are Mexican, and she thought that I, by being Mexican, would not be a college-educated woman, but perhaps someone who could clean her nice home. She thought that I would be like most girls from my community. Like the girls who due to lack of support, money and/or motivation do not further their education.
But I did attend college, and soon I will be the first person in my family to receive a degree. Yes, I did grow up in a community where most choose to not attend college. Yes, money was an issues. Yes, I got to college on my own. It was difficult, but here I am.
She might have not known this before, but brown girls can be educated. They can be engineers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, architects, designers… ANYTHING they set their mind to.
Regardless, her reactions made me feel small. I felt labeled. Little does this woman know that I learned the English language at age 11, yet by age 13 I was proficient and the best in my class. Little does she know I lived in a migrant household, that I never had a stable education through high school because of my parent’s job. And that I would have to do my schools assignments in the bathroom because I lived in a one-bedroom mobile home and it was the only light I could keep on without it bugging my parents as they rested at night.
The color of my skin does not mean I cannot be educated. If anything it means I should be educated. Now that I think about it, it makes me feel pretty special knowing I can leave people speechless.